The drum is still calling at sunset (back to the basics)

We are redesigning the new In producing it, we aimed to return to the roots of our story and reclaim the essence of “storytelling.” Allow me to reminisce about the inception of our organization and why “telling stories” remains at the core of everything we do.

Let’s rewind the tape… I know, it might sound like a cliché (indeed, it is: many similar tales begin this way), but… ever since I was a child, I’ve harbored the desire to be a storyteller, a nomad with a mission: to travel and then employ signs, images, and words to craft engaging maps of all that I would experience.

In a fourth-grade assignment, the topic being the classic “What do you want to be when you grow up,” I didn’t write a single word but drew a picture: it was me on the roof of an off-road vehicle — which, in theory, was supposed to be a Land Rover Defender — with a tripod and a camera. Around me lay the world (the drawing was quite beautiful, but the teacher didn’t appreciate it: he failed me).

With that camera, I would have narrated encounters, smiles, acts of kindness, battles, and perils, the magnificence of nature, creatures big and small, infinite shades of color, oceans, deserts, cities, places, and spaces of all kinds: wild, ordinary, strange, unique, surreal, open, confined.

In 1986, at least partially, I could realize that vision when — alongside my work as a skipper (I love the sea and sailing upon it) — I began working as an illustrator (ship-portraitist) for naval museums, nautical magazines, and maritime companies in Italy, France, Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

First Change

One day, somewhere, I came across these words (attributed, it seems, to the Dalai Lama): “This planet does not need more successful people. This planet desperately needs peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.”

I read these words as a call to action. It was my melody: to tell, with my own eyes, stories of real life. Drawing boats and ships was no longer enough: I wanted people, but I was never skilled at drawing them. In 1992, I fully embraced photography.

Since then, I have built a career that ranges from photojournalism to advertising, with images published and used in all fields: social reportage, cinema, television, marine sports, dance, and fashion.

Second Change

Apparently, everything seemed to be going well. But it wasn’t: in 2008 — after dozens of publications, documentaries, exhibitions, and photographic reports — I suddenly decided to change everything. It happened while I was producing a documentary film in Acupé, a Quilombo in Bahia, Brazil.

Until then, photography had given me everything I could desire: the allure of seeing incredible things and exploring some of the most beautiful places on the planet, a relatively comfortable life, a bit of fame, applause. But something was missing, and I felt a certain degree of unhappiness.

I was increasingly estranged from an industry, the editorial and advertising sector, driven by cynicism and absurd expectations. In Acupé — amidst that small, resilient community, fighting against drug trafficking to defend their values — I realized that I was producing things that were aesthetically and technically well-executed but devoid of feeling, of warmth. Devoid of utility. I had forgotten my melody.

It was time to change and embark on a different path. It was time to get my hands dirty and wet my feet. It was time to start a real journey through the entire spectrum of human emotions — joy, hope, faith, desire, courage, hatred, despair, fear, pain, redemption, wonder, love, gratitude, resilience, grace — focusing on what truly touched my heart. It was time to turn my back on the overcrowded and egotistical world of mainstream media. And so I did.

Third Change

The seeds of Ayzoh! had been sown: it would be a photography agency and an independent editorial studio serving marginalized communities. The focus of our work would no longer be about increasing clients or readers, but rather about shedding light on resilience (though I dislike that word), the quest for positive change, and the aspiration for Beauty that unite human beings across latitudes, beliefs, and cultures.

“I have much world, much road behind me, and in all the places I’ve been, I’ve discovered traces of many dreamers like us, or I’ve met women and men who are an extension of our dreams, because we dream of theirs too. Yes, there is no doubt: the right dreams are the ultimate expression of internationalism, of the desire to make global, planetary, that social justice which is the substance of all dreams.” — Luis Sepúlveda

I managed to connect my work with my most authentic self, and despite the (many) negative aspects and (significant) financial losses, I have never regretted that decision. Even now, life isn’t easy, and I don’t have an exit strategy, but I am doing exactly what I want to do. I have rediscovered the melody, my Daimon.

That decision brought back a word I had renounced: “storytelling.” Unfortunately, in recent years, “storytelling” has become one of the most overused words in the “creative” industry, in media, in marketing, and in politics. In fact, it is so overused that it risks becoming meaningless. But we must not let words be snatched away from us. We must reclaim them.

Being a storyteller still holds an essential and exact meaning that has nothing to do with brands, marketing strategies, advertising techniques, or political manipulations. Being a “storyteller” — if one is aware that “storytelling” can, as it often does, have a dark side — can still be a noble profession.

It always has been. In many cultures, one of the most important moments in a community’s life was when the storyteller’s drum called people together at sunset.

Around the fire, the group would come together, connecting the past to the future, reasoning about the present, addressing problems, attempting to find solutions that could bring peace and benefits to all tribes. Today, it’s not so different.

In the name of resistance, change, and Beauty

Regardless of the place, situation, or problem, resilience, change, and beauty will be the three most common keywords in the images and stories you’ll find here, on the new

Since time immemorial, these words have represented the lowest common denominator of all stories capable of inspiring, stirring, and offering meaning to the lives of human beings. Each of these words is important, but when they come together in the same story, something mysteriously powerful happens.

We need Beauty: it reminds us of our humanity and helps us keep hopes and visions alive.

We need to believe in the possibility of positive change if we want to expend energy and resources to seek to improve our lives and those of others.

And we need resilience to resist, preserve integrity and dignity, the two most powerful tools for individual and collective progress.

That’s why, in contrast to today’s sad passions — even though, as a photographer, I often have to confront the ugly, the evil, and the bad — resilience, Beauty, and the pursuit of positive change are still the things I focus my eyes on when I look at the world and people.

To be optimistic in difficult times is not foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is made not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to highlight in this complex story will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, we destroy our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people behaved magnificently, it gives us the energy to act. And if we act, even in small ways, we need not expect utopian futures. The future is an endless succession of presents, and living now as we think human beings should live, defying all that is ugly around us, is itself a marvelous victory. — Howard Zinn

Now you know how and why Ayzoh! was born. Telling stories of communities, women, men, and children fighting to defend an ideal of common humanity — sharing these stories with those who follow and support our work — is what we aim to do with the new Optimistically (!), I want to do this for a long time to come.